by Ray Keating
June 30, 2020
At this point, would you be more surprised if Walt Disney World opened on schedule or if it was further delayed? There’s a great deal of speculating on this, to say the least, and given recent developments, justifiably so.
Right now, Disney’s plans are to open the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15. For good measure, July 9 is the Annual Passholder Preview Day for the Magic Kingdom.
Across the country in California, Disney announced last week that it would not reopen its Disneyland Resort on July 17, as previously announced. No new date was supplied. Disney highlighted the fact that the State of California would not have its theme park reopening guidelines ready until after July 4, and that would leave Disney insufficient time to get their Donald Ducks in a row for reopening.
Keep in mind that as recent as June 25, the Orlando Sentinel reported that a Disney representative said the Florida parks would be reopening as scheduled. In addition, Disney has all the necessary governmental approvals for reopening in Florida. So, as far as we know, Walt Disney World will be open for business starting on July 11.
The current COVID-19 situation in Florida raises big questions, though. After all, the rise in COVID-19 cases in the state has been, unfortunately, dramatic over the past month. As the Sentinel noted today, there were 6,093 new coronavirus cases reported in Florida on Tuesday, bringing the state’s total to 152,534. And 58 deaths brought the state’s death toll up to 3,505. (Data source for the following chart from the Orlando Sentinel.)
And consider the following, as reported on Monday: “From Sunday to Sunday, Florida saw 43,784 new reported cases of COVID-19, the highest amount in a one-week period since the pandemic began.”
The Washington Post noted: “Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed 2.5 million on Sunday as a crushing new wave of infections continued to bear down throughout the country’s South and West. Across the nation, 40,587 new daily cases were reported. Florida, Texas and Arizona are emerging as the country’s latest epicenters after reporting record numbers of new infections for weeks in a row.”
A key problem in Florida is a chunk of individuals – largely younger people – ignoring the threat and proper safeguards. That has resulted in new restrictions on businesses, as the InsuranceJournal.com reported:
Earlier Friday, state officials said they would ban alcohol consumptions at bars as health officials attribute the new outbreak to young adults flocking to establishments after reopening three weeks ago, with many of them ignoring social distancing restrictions aimed at lowering the virus’s spread.
Bars, like restaurants, were supposed to limit patrons to 50% of their normal capacity, under the state’s emergency orders. Patrons had to sit at tables, with groups 6 feet (2 meters) apart. No congregating at the bar or on the dance floor was permitted.
The new order prohibits any establishment that makes more than 50% of its revenue from alcohol sales from serving alcohol for consumption on site. Bars are still permitted to sell alcohol in sealed containers for consumption offsite. Restaurants that primarily sell food can still serve alcohol to customers seated at tables.
Business and Professional Regulations Secretary Halsey Beshears said he issued the order because too many bars and patrons were breaking the rules, overwhelming his department’s inspectors.
“This was more than we could keep up with,” Beshears said.
Beshears added, “People in general just wanted to get out and experience a normalcy... Sadly, 90% are getting it right. It’s the other 10% that are ruining it for everybody.”
Also, among the counties in Florida closing beaches for the July 4 weekend are Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe, and Martin. However, most counties will have their beaches open for the holiday weekend.
Then there’s the economy. Consumer reactions to both the increases in coronavirus cases in Florida, as well as the grim state of the economy (such as record levels of unemployment, threats of more layoffs coming, and widespread uncertainty and insecurity) promises to cut deeply into those journeying to Disney World. It’s hard to fork over significant dollars to have fun with Mickey when wondering if the next paycheck is coming, or there is no paycheck.
Having said all of this, Disney needs staff on hand for the arrival of the NBA and Major League Soccer. The MLS already has begun to arrive, with the soccer tournament running from July 8 to August 11. And NBA teams are scheduled to arrive between July 7-11, with the rest of the season tipping off on July 30. There also are plans to provide entertainment to the players and their families.
At the same time, though, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver acknowledged in an interview today that he couldn’t guarantee the restart or completion of the NBA season, given the unpredictability of the coronavirus.
ESPN reported on June 29: “Overall, 668 players have been tested since the start of full-team training on June 4. That translates to a positive test rate of 2.7%, which compares favorably to the 5.3% positive rate that the NBA recorded for its most recent round of testing of players.”
It also was noted:
According to the Florida Department of Health, Orange County has had at least a 15.9% positive test rate over the past five days for which data was announced, with a total of 4,128 new positive case recorded in that time. Orange County is home to much of Walt Disney World Resort, including the Swan and Dolphin hotels, where teams and MLS staff are staying.
In neighboring Osceola County, where the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex is located, cases and positive test rates also have been increasing. Over the past five days, a total of 687 new positive cases have been recorded, with the positive test rate ranging from 9.3% to 22.7%.
So, moving pieces galore make Disney’s decision-making difficult, and from the outside, hard to predict. At this point, I throw my hands up in the air, and wouldn’t be surprised whichever way Disney goes – opening Disney World as scheduled or pushing it off.
While COVID-19 might have other things in mind, Disney at least for now looks set on reopening. Of course, the company can and will limit attendance, and work to make Disney World even more of a bubble than it usually is.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of The Disney Planner 2020: The TO DO List Solution (now available at a deep discount) and the Pastor Stephen Grant novels. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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